Thursday, March 25, 2004

OK, lots to talk about today.

First up, The Passion. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m amazed at its ability to create soapboxes. Every review and article I’ve read about The Passion is a commentary about some aspect of the movie; I have yet to find a straight review of the film as a film, comparing it to Mel Gibson’s intentions. People seem intent on seeing it exclusively through one particular lens.

Case in point: an article in The Wall Street Journal in which several scholars complain about various aspects of The Passion. In the scene in which Jesus is being questioned by the high priest, Diane Wudel (New Testament scholar at Wake Forest University Divinity School) says that the viewer gets “an altered question, an answer from Mark, a trial from Luke and a dialogue from John.”

Well, um, which one of those books is the authority on that trial, Prof. Wudel? Do you read only the Luke account and reject the others? Or do you acknowledge that each is a perspective on events, and that the exact wording and exact order of events are not as important as the truths underlying the story?

Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest, an ordained Baptist minister and Baptist historian, complains, “When you limit the gospel story only to the crucifixion—when you don’t have the story of the prodigal son, the words of the Sermon on the Mount, it doesn’t tell the story that Jesus shows us waht God is like. The love of God is not simply revealed in the brutality of the cross.”

He’s absolutely right. But that’s not the point of the film.

It’s not called The Life of the Christ. It’s not called The Resurrection of the Christ. It’s about the Passion, the days leading up to and including the crucifixion. Maybe some of these folks have forgotten their ecumenical terminology and assume that the word “passion” is just a neat word and not a specific term.

How does the film work as a film about the passion? From what I hear, it works pretty darn well.

Meanwhile, the magicians are in a huff (surprisingly, the full Wall Street Journal article is available here, thanks to

Essentially, a small Houdini museum in Houdini’s home town of Appleton, Wisconsin is putting up an interactive exhibit of Houdini’s “Metamorphosis” trick. This is the illusion in which the magician is wrapped in a sack, then placed in a large padlocked box which is checked by volunteers, and then after a few moments behind a curtain, swaps places with the assistant outside. The box is then unlocked and the assistant is found inside, wrapped inside the sack.

The illusion is, like most illusions, quite straightforward once you realize where the illusion really is. The illusion lies in believing that the person in the box is still wrapped in the sack the whole time. As soon as Houdini was locked in the box, he got out of the sack, ready to get out of the box. Of course, the box had a cleverly concealed trap door. When the curtain concealed them, Houdini would slip out the trap door and the assistant would slip in. Houdini whipped the curtain aside while the assistant was still wriggling into the sack, and she had plenty of time to do so as the padlocks were removed from the box.

But the magicians have rabbits coming out of their ears in horror at the idea of a secret of magic being revealed to any old passers-by who pays the fare. Nevermind the fact that the trick is a century old, of course.

Like any good magic trick, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Over the decades, “Metamorphosis” has become a rite of passage for magicians. Once a magician has successfully staged his or her own version of “Metamorphosis,” s/he is generally considered to be a pro. Thus, as everyone sees how “Metamorphosis” is done, a significant bit of the magicians’ internal culture is wiped away. The audiences will yawn at this one; they know how it’s done.

The real problem here is that the magic community has stagnated. There was a day when magicians invented dozens of tricks by themselves, and were constantly wowing audiences with novelty. In fact, one of the reasons why the great magicians like Robert Houdin were so popular for so long is the fact that they’d keep introducing new illusions into their acts, so patrons could return the next year and find new delights to amaze them.

But the magic community has lost its edge. Now, magicians learn a bag of existing tricks, and make little (if any) effort to invent anything new. When was the last time you saw a magician who wasn’t dressed in something like a tuxedo?

I spent a good amount of my childhood reading up on magic. I have a few books of magic tricks at home. The last time I saw a magician, I recognized




of his tricks.

This is like a band that only plays other bands’ music. It’s pathetic.

Light. I feel like a grunge band. All anger and frustration. Sorry about that.

So I’ll end with a light item, followed by a link. First up: India and Pakistan.

No, really. There’s a big cricket match going on right now between India and Pakistan, and it’s being held in Pakistan. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, what with their nuclear bickering being only the largest of many looming points of contention.

But it’s going great. The Pakistani crowds have applauded the Indian team when it’s doing well, and the entire situation has thus far been an entirely civil affair. To quote The Wall Street Journal:

Thousands of Indian fans, armed with special short-stay “cricket visas,” have traveled in the past 10 days to Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and even Peshawar—only a missile’s lob away from the lawless tribal regions where Pakistani soldiers are gunning it out with a Taliban/al Qaeda rump. They’ve painted their faces in India’s national colors, waved the Indian flag under the very noses of Pakistanis, and cheered lustily for their team in Pakistani stadiums—where they have been vastly outnumbered, naturally, by the home supporters.

…the Pakistani public has extended such a warm embrace to fans from across the border that many Indians—according to reports in the Delhi newspapers—are finiding it difficult to encounter restaurateurs and taxi drivers who will accept their money. “You are our guests,” they’ve been told, again and again. “We cannot charge you.”

And finally, ever wished that somebody who understood poetry, really understood it, could sit down with you and explain how it works, as best anyone can tell, and maybe even inspire you to write some? He did, and it’s on the web.

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